By AMANDA FRINK email@example.com | Posted: Tuesday, July 24, 2012 6:00 pm
WILLAPA BAY — The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has brought Jackie Ferrier from her native upstate New York to a variety of locales over the past 19 years, from being the assistant manager at Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge in Basking Ridge, N.J., to wildlife biologist at Imperial National Wildlife Refuge in Arizona and California and then amongst the large waterfowl populations at Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge Complex.
But as she settles into her title as project leader (refuge manager) at Willapa National Wildlife Refuge Complex, Ferrier says she is most fascinated by her current surroundings here in Pacific County. “The diversity that is here just blows my mind,” she says of the area beaches, old growth forests and estuaries. “I love the habitats, I love the species and the people I work with,” she said at the complex headquarters Wednesday. “The more people I meet, the more impressed I am.”
Ferrier, who was promoted to refuge manager from deputy project leader in February after Charlie Stenvall’s December departure, oversees day-to-day operations of Willapa National Wildlife Refuge, the Lewis and Clark National Wildlife Refuge on the Columbia River, and the Julia Butler Hansen Refuge outside Cathlamet.
Supervising 15 staff throughout the complex and two youth conservation crews, Ferrier says there is no typical day in her line of work. “My day is as diverse as the species we manage,” she confirms.
One of her tasks has been meeting with stakeholders and the public about the refuge’s long-debated dike removal project, one of the goals listed in their 15-year Comprehensive Plan. Ferrier says she is excited about the project as it will restore intertidal areas to their natural flow and as a result will improve the health of the bay and the fish and waterfowl that depend on it.
Dikes coming out
The first phase of the project is underway — restoring 160 acres of the Bear River Estuary by removing the dike, culvert and fish ladder at the Lewis Unit — and will be completed by the end of summer. The second phase will consist of dike and fish ladder removal at the Porter Unit. (See photo below).
Phases three and four of dike removal — to be scheduled once funding is secured — will restore 200 acres of estuary at the Riekkola Unit. Dike removal sparked controversy in the area, with U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, county commissioners and legislators calling for the dikes to stay in place.
Another ongoing effort is what Ferrier calls “one of the largest species eradication efforts in the country” — controlling 8,500 acres of solid spartina spread out over 20,000 acres. The project aims for total eradication of the plant, which she says is only growing in a 2.5-acre area currently.
Ironically, while USFWS is removing dikes in one area, the agency is also hoping to save an
eroding dike bordering the Julia Butler Hansen Refuge and the Columbia River. Ferrier says the wide hole beneath the road is about 60 feet deep, and if erosion continues and the dike fails, the refuge could be flooded as early as this winter, potentially harming refuge’s population of endangered Columbian white-tailed deer.
Ferrier says her colleagues, government officials and the Army Corps of Engineers are searching for creative ways to have the dike and road repaired, as neither the county nor the diking district have funding for the multimillion-dollar project.
Through a partnership with The Nature Conservancy, the refuge has been working to remove (or when possible, relocate) eroded logging roads to benefit coho, chum, brook lamprey and Western pearl shell mussel populations in nearby streams. The two agencies have also done two commercial thinning operations at Teal Slough and the south part of Willapa Bay.
Ferrier says that by reducing the number of trees per acre, the understory will thrive and other trees grow faster, providing homes necessary for the marbled murrelet population. She says another perk is that the county will receive revenue through the sales of the logs.
Habitat recovery is also ongoing at the north end of the Peninsula, where for years USFWS has been restoring the beach dune habitat near Leadbetter.
By removing European beach grass and ensuring minimal nest disturbance from humans, USFWS has created an appealing and encouraging open habitat for the threatened bird. Though there is still the ongoing problem of predation, several nests have hatched this year and Ferrier anticipates more babies to arrive soon. “Every chick counts,” states Ferrier, who says the open dune area has also attracted streaked horned larks.
Another species Ferrier says USFWS is trying to revive and protect is the Oregon silverspot
butterfly. For the past two years, they’ve been experimenting with ways to restore the coast prairie habitat at Tarlatt Slough in hopes that one day it can host the reintroduction of the threatened butterfly. She says that this fall they will be planting about 6,000 early blue violet plants, the primary food source for silverspot larvae.
While it seems Ferrier already has plenty of tasks to manage at her new post, she says she is eager for the refuge create more of a presence in the region. Though there isn’t funding available yet, she is looking forward to the refuge headquarters moving from its current location on the bay at 3888 State Route 101 to the Tarlatt unit, near the PUD office on Sandridge Road.
The Friends of Willapa National Wildlife Refuge, a volunteer group that supports the refuge, is eager as well, with plans to build a trail from the new site through the neighboring forest to Willapa Bay.